"We want to keep the doors open"
US lobbies oppose outsourcing to India
IANS[ FRIDAY, JULY 04, 2003 11:13:42 AM ]
SAN JOSE: The growing clout of Indian companies as the chosen business processing centres for US corporations has provoked serious ire among American workers and prompted sobriquets such as "white-collar sweatshops".
Although the IT industry remains divided over the extent of disaffection among the American workforce and its likely political fallout, labour pressure groups have begun to make considerable noises against the trend.
At least one pressure group, the Seattle based WashTech, says there is a growing movement against outsourcing jobs to India and other countries.
According to WashTech, a majority of US voters believe that the highest-paying best-skilled jobs should remain at home.
"There is a growing movement that is gaining steam reaching out to our political issues to make this case known," WashTech president Marcus Courtney told IANS in an interview.
Asked if he believed ruthless American corporations bent upon cutting costs would be really influenced by any popular movement against outsourcing, Courtney said, "A critical link in curbing the abuses of corporations is through workplace organising and collective action among employees through trade unions.
"This is one of the few proven ways that can stop corrupt workplace abuses. That also ties into political action in that the government needs to pass policies that promote investment in the US and requires that companies make commitments on keeping jobs here," he maintained.
In a report headlined "White-collar sweatshops", news and current affairs website Salon.com says, "Globalisation is becoming a dirty word
to US tech workers, increasingly angry and anxious as their jobs disappear overseas never to return."
Fuelling labour anger is a combination of factors, including a weak US economy, mounting lay-offs and many studies claiming that jobs are moving out of America faster than what is good for the domestic workforce.
A new study by management consulting company A T Kearney forecasts that more than half a million jobs, or eight percent of the total workforce, will be outsourced offshore over the next five years by US banks, brokerage firms and other financial services companies.
The study, conducted on the basis of inputs from some 100 financial services companies, says the strategy would be to have a global footprint rather than restrict outsourcing to a single country.
Nevertheless it ranks India as the "preferred country over all" for offshore business processing followed by Canada, Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines, Hungary, Ireland, Czech Republic, Australia, Russia and China.
"Although India will likely maintain its lead for the next several years, China is expected to become an increasingly popular location once US financial services firms have the necessary confidence that their intellectual property rights will be safeguarded," the company said.
While the forecast may be music to Indian corporate ears, it is striking some jarring notes within the US.
It is a measure of the response that at least in three states - New Jersey, Maryland and Connecticut - legislatures are already considering banning outsourcing jobs offshore.
However, Representative Jay Inslee from Washington state, the home to Microsoft and Boeing, has said the bills seeking to ban outsourcing will not anywhere.
"I don't think it (a ban on offshore outsourcing) is going to happen," Inslee was quoted as saying during his May visit to India.
"We want to keep the doors open. I believe any effort to restrict market access will adversely impact the US economy. The policy of protectionism will not take us anywhere," he maintained.
Well-known technology and management guru Sam Pitroda takes a different view of the subject.
"For centuries, jobs have moved around. The only difference because of globalisation is that they now move globally. This is a trend you just cannot prevent. That is the very nature of information technology driven globalization. One has to just accept it," Pitroda held.
He argued though that even now jobs going outside the US "are sort of factory jobs within the white-collar category.
"There may be some important design jobs going out but by and large they are still not at the upper end of the job pyramid.
"The trick is for the US to create high paying jobs at the upper end."
Pitroda also pointed out that fewer and fewer American-born students were getting into engineering and science which in turn had led to labour shortages for IT and other related jobs.
Inevitably tying into the outsourcing debate is the issue of the H1B work visas that have brought in hundreds of thousands of guest workers into the US economy, a majority from India.
With the economic downturn, that visa regime is coming under strain and there are fears that it could create a xenophobic fringe among the American workforce.
Courtney says: "WashTech has been very concerned that an outgrowth of people's economic anxieties could turn against Indian employees in the US and in India.
"We want the focus of the debate to be around the issue of the corporations that are implementing these policies and not blame workers in other countries. I believe that the companies are trying to pit nationality against nationality to try and create xenophobic tensions."
He maintained the visa programme was "abused" by US employers.
"It is not an immigration programme. Guest workers do not have the same legal rights as other immigrants, which is a very serious problem."
The resentment of the programme comes from the employer abuse. H-1B visa workers are paid less, which undercuts wages in this country.
Guest workers had also been brought in to replace employees currently doing the job but that was not the intention of the programme and that was wrong, he said.
According to Courtney, there was no longer a labour shortage and the H-1B visa workers were no longer needed.
He says he would blame the US Congress and the corporations "for creating an abusive programme for both guest workers and US employees".